Some are stunned. Others, not so much. Either way, something is up, and it’s bound to reveal itself soon.
Some around the league have speculated that Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, whom Johnson called his best friend, wouldn’t support his decision to fire head coach Luke Walton after the season and it caused his sudden resignation.
Johnson claims his position as league statesman and ambassador means more to him than his standing as the man who was supposed to bring the Lakers back to prominence, in the city that worships him, the city and franchise that supported him through tumultuous days professionally and personally.
“I had more fun when I was able to be the big brother and ambassador to everybody,” Johnson said at his stunning, impromptu news conference before the Lakers faced the Portland Trail Blazers.
Johnson claims that congratulating Russell Westbrook for his 20-20-20 game would be tampering as a league executive, but not an issue as someone without a title.
While true, there’s more to this.
There has to be.
He literally walked into the Staples Center and performed a Dave Chappelle skit come to life, quitting with a smile … and a few tears.
“It’s a difficult decision. I cried before I came here,” Johnson said. “I want to cry now. It’s hard when you love an organization the way I love this organization. When I love a person like I love Jeanie.”
Magic isn’t above stepping aside if things don’t come easy enough. His entrepreneur life seemingly came easy. Being Magic — full of smiles, charisma and no-look passes — came easy.
Winning at the NBA level came easier as a pro than it did as a collegian, winning a title in his rookie year and two of his first three seasons.
But this is also the man who quit coaching the Lakers after 16 games in 1994, when it was evident his mere presence wasn’t enough to result in wins.
Is this a repeat, or is Johnson refusing to reveal his true motivations?
Was he so overcome by frustration that he couldn’t even face Buss before facing the media for a press conference that lasted well over 30 minutes? It was also a press conference in which he failed to wholly endorse general manager Rob Pelinka, a man who was supposed to fill in all the blanks while Johnson handled the big picture.
“That’s a decision Jeanie has to make. She has to make all the calls,” Johnson said.
Perhaps being Magic was more important than anything else. Even more important than the brand that helped make him magical. By his own admission, he wanted to be a statesman for the league, a symbol for greatness. But part of that symbolism was being able to pop up on TV and issue statements about the Lakers, talking about what went wrong over the last few years and almost campaigning for the job as basketball czar.
Now, he won’t be able to do that, if things are as simple as he made them out to be when speaking with reporters.
He delivered LeBron James to L.A. and was viewed as the kingmaker, the ultimate recruiter.
Or he happened to be in L.A. when LeBron chose Los Angeles for the next step in his basketball empire. James is under contract for four years, giving the next president ample ground to build upon as there’s cap space, a lottery pick and an opportunity for a quick turnaround.
He’s too calculated to have made this decision on a whim, like he claims. His track record, heck, his playing career, suggests seeing the next move coming before it reveals itself.
But the missteps have been visible, suggesting some naivete.
There was the courtship of Anthony Davis that didn’t result in consummation.
The subsequent chastising of the Lakers’ young players following the trade deadline, suggesting they’ve been coddled and couldn’t handle reports of being on the block.
The Lakers had questions about their future, even with Johnson leading the way.
Now, simply, they have more.
A lot more.
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